Anorexia and so-called bigorexia, or muscle dysmorphia, is on the rise among men, and a new study from two Australian universities is trying to find out what’s going in the patients’ heads by surveying them with an indepth questionaire. The research, led by Dr. Stuart Murray, is scheduled to be published later today in the Journal of Eating Disorders.
Anorexia, a severe eating disorder that sometimes results in the patient starving herself to death, is well-recognized in young girls and women. However, in the 21st century, young men have started to appear among the ranks of the victims. A Toronto hospital study found that as many as one-third of anorexics today are male.
Bigorexia, or muscle dysmorphia, has been slower to become recognized because the patients often look healthy and they may be morally convinced that they’re doing something good for their bodies. Identifying the disorder is often the most important step in treating it, according to the National Institutes of Health. Victims honestly believe that they’re not muscular enough, and they may go to dangerous extremes to continue developing their bodies — including compulsive exercising for many hours a day, strange eating patterns often focused on protein and protein supplements, and even drug abuse.
Why the drugs in men who are otherwise highly focused on the perfect diet and a challenging exercise routine? The problem is that, for bigorexics, enough is never enough, and some of them will ultimately resort to illegal anabolic steroids in pursuit of the perfect physique.
The Australian researchers said that many people in the past have assumed that men with eating disorders were driven by their sexuality. However, the responses to the questionaires suggested that the men were actually motivated by their own self-image.
Men with bigorexia were more likely to prefer traditional male roles in society, while the anorexic men were more interested in traditional female roles. It wasn’t about attracting or impressing a partner. And it wasn’t even about who they really were.
Pointing out that the men with anorexia weren’t actually less masculine than the men with bigorexia, Dr. Murray said that the results highlighted “the increasing pressures men are under to define their masculinity in the modern world.”
All this might sound very familiar to some anorexic women, who have said for years that their disease is about control and defining what looks good to them, not about pleasing someone else.
And that need for control can make anorexia and bigorexia very tough for doctors to treat.
[male bodybuilder in India photo courtesy Glitterchirag and Wikipedia Commons]